How to put the UK’s railways back on track

Insights & Opinions
How to put the UK’s railways back on track
by transforming the customer experience
By creating a compelling retail experience, backed by open, component-based systems,
the nation’s rail operators can greatly improve revenue generation and cost efficiency
By Nick Chisnall, Fujitsu
The recent McNulty report on value for money in the
UK rail industry brought home what many in the sector
knew already: the UK’s railways are considerably more
expensive than those of its European counterparts – and
there’s plenty of room for improvement. Sir Roy McNulty’s
recommendations include tripling the length of franchises
offered to train operating companies, as well as improving
co-ordination and co-operation among the various
organisations collectively charged with delivering UK rail
services. McNulty contends that if his package of measures
– which also covers a range of regulatory, employment
and cultural issues – is implemented in full, then the
industry could make savings of £1 billion a year by 2020.
Longer franchises are certainly welcome. With more
time to recoup investments, the move will give operating
companies a far greater incentive to focus on longer-term
operational efficiencies and measures that improve their
The rail industry must take on board the latest
developments in the wider retail industry to
dramatically improve customer experience
customers via multiple channels. But being able to offer
and build on such services quickly and effectively without
breaking the bank depends on the back-end technology
being open and flexible enough to add new partners,
services, channels and so on, without having to rewrite
systems from the bottom up – which means taking
advantage of shared services and standard components.
Getting on the right platform
The rail industry, by contrast, is still some way behind
the retail sector when it comes to integrated multichannel retailing and other customer-pleasing
innovations. Traditionally, operators have developed
isolated “stovepipe” systems to handle ticket sales in
different channels. These systems could not easily talk to
one another, meaning it has rarely been possible to offer
customers a seamless retail experience that is consistent
whatever combination of channels or devices they
choose to use before and during their journey. Similarly,
such systems have prevented operators from introducing
more innovative retail ideas and partnerships that could
boost custom and revenues.
customers’ experience. At Fujitsu, we believe there are two
key elements to realising these benefits. One is to work
with technology partners that have the experience and
expertise necessary to take advantage of new systems
and services in a way that’s flexible enough to adapt to an
uncertain and rapidly evolving market. The other is that
the industry must take on board the latest developments
in the wider retail industry to dramatically improve the rail
retail experience for customers.
But to deliver the kind of improvements and efficiencies
McNulty says the industry needs to achieve, this must
change. Because of their improved retail experiences
elsewhere, customers are coming to expect a similar
level of service innovation from every organisation
they deal with. If the rail industry fails to give them
a compelling retail experience there is a real risk that
people will vote with their feet and only opt to use the
train when they have no alternative.
These goals are inextricably linked. In the retail sector
there has been a shift towards providing ever more
convenient, personalised and integrated services for
All change, please
However, the industry is beginning to embrace the kind
of changes necessary. Already, transport-owning groups
Insights & Opinions
bidding for franchises have to outline how they will drive
increased retail revenues. And they’re starting to identify
retailing as not merely something they need to do, but
as something that could be a real differentiator for them.
For example, Merseyrail was the first UK operator to
adopt Fujitsu’s STAR ticketing system. This has allowed
Merseyrail to revolutionise its concourse ticket retailing,
by replacing old-style ticket offices in several stations
with its own retail store, M to Go. It sells the full range of
Merseyrail and national rail tickets together with hot and
cold snacks, sweets and other convenience items.
The system was easily integrated with that of Merseyrail’s
retail partner to automate functions such as stock
control and replenishment. The retail units remain
It’s vital to ensure systems are both flexible and
future-proofed against technological advances
by being based on open standards both use Fujitsu’s Rail Information
Booking Services (RIBS) as their gateway to access
central rail industry information. They offer an improved
booking experience to help passengers balance price,
ticket flexibility, journey time and on-train facilities.
The websites are set up to accommodate a national
roll-out of mobile, self-print and smartcard tickets as
these are made available on routes by train operators.
For others still, it might be about introducing customer
loyalty schemes. And then there are also opportunities
to improve services by, for example, delivering up-to-date
personal travel information or bespoke travel itineraries
to customers’ mobile phones, or to have that information
printed for them on the concourse at the touch of a
smartcard. Again, by using standard, component-based
systems at the back end, all this becomes far faster and
simpler than it ever was in the past.
The express route to success
It is vital to ensure systems are flexible enough to meet
operators’ specific demands in specific circumstances –
and are future-proofed against technological advances
(by being based on open standards). For rural operators,
the focus might be on reducing costs by replacing staffed
ticket offices with smart electronic kiosks.
Such systems can also bring other efficiency benefits.
STAR, for example, can produce valuable reports from
real-time information that help managers evaluate
business performance in different areas so they can take
quick action. The system can analyse sales data to give
advance warning of potentially fraudulent transactions.
There are also new marketing opportunities. By marrying
business intelligence data from point-of-sale systems
with mobile and social media applications, operators can
market directly to customers, upselling and cross selling
relevant services, while delivering contextual messages
about the purchased service (e.g. delays/cancellations).
The result: a vastly improved customer experience.
Innovative ticket vending machines (TVMs) are another
option. Fujitsu’s new Ticket on Departure solution (ToDler)
integrates the rail retail components of STAR with TVM
kiosks to allow quick access to tickets via multiple touch
points, giving customers a flexible, queue-busting service.
Overall, the benefits of this approach are so compelling
that we at Fujitsu believe its widespread adoption is
imminent. In fact the only question that remains for rail
operators is whether they want to be on the fast track
to this exciting future – or experiencing severe delays.
Another approach is to use an online rail ticket booking
system. The websites and
l About the author: Nick Chisnall is Head of Rail
at Fujitsu UK & Ireland
open whenever trains are running, making the shop
convenient for passengers, improving the station
environment and creating additional jobs for rail staff.
What next?
l Contact Fujitsu: [email protected]
Visit our website:
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